By Yara Torrez
Without words, there is no communication. One of the primary objectives of a language learner is and should be to increase their vocabulary, but how? The teacher plays a vital role in this matter. There is a wide array of activities instructors can carry out to teach new words.
In our classes, often we listen to our students deliver effective presentations and use vocabulary they never use when they are participating in class discussions, or worse, words not even us, teachers, make use. On one occasion, one of my students used too many sophisticated words, so I decided to take notes to ask him about their meanings after the presentation. As expected, the student did not know what they meant. That only confirmed that the student had memorized all the information without really knowing what it was all about or what he was saying. Unfortunately, memorization is what most language learners’ turn to when they lack the vocabulary to talk about certain topics. This strategy is called rote learning.
According to the dictionary. Cambridge, rote learning is “learning something to be able to repeat it from memory, rather than to understand it.” Through rote learning there is no assimilation of the new information, for the learner does not make connections between what they already know and the new information; therefore, their learning is not meaningful. The students only parrot back instead of using their words.
It is worth mentioning that words are the key element of a language .and that they carry the message a speaker wants to convey. So, how can teachers help language students increase their lexicon and enable them to express their thoughts and ideas spontaneously? It might not seem easy. However, there are many practical tasks instructors can assign in and outside the classroom such as watching news and videos in English with close captions, listening to songs in English and analyzing the lyrics, recycling by using the newly acquired words in different contexts, and the like. Another surefire activity is reading. It has been proven that “reading increases [one’s] vocabulary more than talking or direct teaching” (“8 Benefits of Reading”). When we read we are somehow forced to look at the words that are new or strange to us, and either we try to guess their meaning from context, or we look them up in a dictionary. Also, reading gives us the chance to see the use of words in different contexts. The trick lies in the fact that certain words are likely to crop up again and again either in the same or other texts, so that makes our brain learn the new words and we start incorporating them in our lexicon unconsciously.
Nonetheless, reading might seem daunting to use in class because most students believe it is dull and passive. However, if instructors try to vary the way the students read, it might be the opposite -fun and active. Something important to bear in mind when we carry out activities in the classroom is the sequence they should follow to be efficient and produce the results we expect. Most in-class assignments should have at least three stages: pre, while, and post activities all of which play vital roles. When assigning reading, for instance, the pre-reading activities prepare the learners by “activating relevant schemata and motivating them to read“(“Reading Activities”). There are countless ways to introduce the skill of reading like making predictions through pictures, showing short videos, or using the title of the reading itself, having the students say what they know or would like to know about the topic. Also, introducing words they will encounter in the reading, asking them to do research about the topic to discuss it with their classmates, presenting an interesting passage from the reading and promoting discussion, etc.
The second stage is the while, which is the essential task. Like the pre-reading activities, there are varied forms of engaging the students in the reading. A collaborative function is the literature circle, which involves getting the learners to work together in small groups. Each student in each cluster is assigned a role. They all should read the text thoroughly but should perform different tasks. The reading can be homework, or it can classwork depending on how long the article is since different resources can be used such as whole books, only one or some chapters in a book, readings from the textbook, newspaper articles, online readings, magazine articles, etc.
Another reading activity that can turn out to be fun is jigsaw reading. In here, the article is divided in sections; that is, the students receive different parts of the reading. They should work in small groups, and each team receives one part of the reading. All reading sections should be enumerated. After they read their parts, students form new groups with members from different groups. They should retell the part they read following the correct order of the story. A variation of jigsaw reading is to make a puzzle with the reading. This is usually done with short articles because the reading should be printed out and cut into different shapes. Similarly, the learners work in small groups. Each member of the group receives different comprehension questions. So, to answer their questions, they should solve the puzzle. In other words, they must put all the parts together to read the complete text. The last suggested reading activity is reading and running. It is a contest that involves movement. The students work in pairs (A and B). Each pair receives two different sets of comprehension questions, words to which they should find synonyms or definitions to which they should find the concept. The reading is printed out and stuck outside the classroom. One of the students remains sitting while the other runs to find the answers to their questions or words. The students take turns to complete their respective task. The winner is the pair of students that finishes first. Altogether, these activities help to make reading more entertaining and dynamic.
As stated before, reading as any other classroom activity should have a follow-up. Again, many implemented post-reading tasks help the student make use of the vocabulary learned. Some examples are plays, debates, class discussions, role plays, oral presentations, creative writing, etc.
To sum up, reading is an activity that can be exploited to help language learners increase their vocabulary and consequently achieve fluency. Ideally, by carrying out activities like the ones mentioned above, the students might develop the reading habit and become independent learners.
“8 Benefits of Reading (or Ways Reading Makes You Better at Life).” LifeDev. 17 Dec. 2014. Accessed 12, Oct. 2016. http://lifedev.net/2009/06/reading-makes-you-better/
“Examples of pre-reading activities.” Englishpost.org. 31 Jan. 2013. Accessed 12 Oct. 2016. https://englishpost.org/2013/01/31/examples-of-pre-reading-activities/
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